The loose brown hairs drift around the courtyard framed by the wood fence. A bird hops along the ground and picks at a tuft, separating it gingerly with her beak before returning to the nest. She moves sharply, warily, as she hops once and then flutters back to the wild overgrowth tenderly called a monk’s garden by the French gardener who putters around almost every day.
Succulents and vines drape loosely over pots, and one day I notice that one of my potted plants is growing yellow. I run a stream of water over the soil nestled inside the old tin.
The whiteness of my scalp fades and fades. My hair used to touch my collarbones and now it doesn’t reach past half an inch. The bird in the backyard runs to her nest, and I wish I could join her. She nestles in with her young somewhere beyond my sight.
The bird builds a nest a branch at a time, as layered as the words and habits that humans form day after day, week after week. She builds with sticks, and we build with words the walls that keep us safe; but while birds build nests for protection from the cold, we tend to build our walls so strong and high that we cut off our supplies of warmth and affection.
The first time I decided to lose the long-dead locks that weighed heavily on my head, I sat outside in the fading light. The razor grazed over each notch in my scalp, pulling a little, a sign of grieving or loss but also of reclamation of self. I saw something or someone that I hadn’t seen in over a year; she came to rich soil, the right elements of growth, though when she appeared, I didn’t think anything would ever be right or good again.
I have an easier task than she did. My task is to faithfully dictate the words to the page; hers was to find the way through pain and loss and suffering, which is always less beautiful than poets write it to be. Many words have been written about descending into the dark night of the soul. Significantly fewer have been written about how night inevitably comes about every twenty-four hours. The night isn’t a “broken daytime,” though it is often viewed as such. It has its own rich colors, as well as the promise of morning. And so while she is lying on her bed or thinking about walking into the ocean, the awareness of something else exists as a presence in the room. She might try to cover it or cut it off, or she might try to just exist because that in itself is a difficult task sometimes.
The succulent in the pot has since died. The ones outside, however, have grown taller. The rain has come every day for the last week; the drought shrinks and shrinks and shrinks.
Katie Swalm is a writer originally from Denver, Colorado, but who fell in love with the west coast. In her spare time she likes eating fresh fruit, petting dogs on the street, and listening to ’80s pop. You can find her on Instagram (@katetheswan), Tumblr (www.girluntethered.tumblr.com), Facebook, Medium, and Twitter (@katetheswan).